2006 Hungarian Grand Prix

Sorry I’m so late with this post on the most incredible grand prix of the year. I’ve been very busy recently, and when I’ve not been busy I’ve been tired.

Anyway, from an early age — probably when I turned 4 in 1990 — I learned that everything bad in life can be attributed to the 1980s. VHS is one of the decade’s prime bad-ups. I missed the final five laps of the Hungarian Grand Prix because I had to go to work. I thought I would be okay, but being a wet race it lasted much longer than most races do. No worry, I thought: the race is being taped for my brother anyway. Yeah, well it would have been okay had the tape not chewed up and just displayed a lot of white noise. Gah.

Still, the happiness / grumpiness balance was slightly positive on Sunday because what I had seen of the race was absolutely fantastic.

It didn’t just start on Sunday. Fernando Alonso was given a 2 second penalty in qualifying for overtaking under a yellow flag and bizarrely brake-testing, shaking his fist at and veering towards Red Bull test driver Robert Doornbos. Apparently Alonso felt as though Doornbos was holding him up — but this is practice. It’s not as if it’s important. And why single out poor Doornbos? What has he ever done wrong? It seems as though Alonso has a lot of frustration at the moment, and he is letting it out on the racetrack in some bizarre ways.

But as if Alonso’s penalty wasn’t incredible enough, Michael Schumacher ended up getting a 2 second qualifying penalty aswell for overtaking under a red flag, which is a big no-no. Schumi says he was given no option but to overtake, after Alonso slowed a queue of cars right down. Looking at the footage, that is a convincing explanation. But there was still no need for Schumacher to overtake under a red flag. It’s not difficult to hit the brakes.

Under those circumstances, the race was always going to be good. But then came the rain. How long is it since there’s been a wet race? Two or three years? Too long, that’s for sure. It was to turn out to be one of those days where all of the big names cracked.

Michael Schumacher had an incredible start — up from 11th on the grid to 4th after just one lap. Alonso took longer to make his way through the field, but eventually he was up to the lead. Not before Alonso and Schumacher had a fun battle on the track. You seldom see championship contenders battling like that on-track — mostly they make their moves via impenetrable pit strategies. But in that phase of the race — on a wet track — Alonso’s Michelin tyres were so much better than Schumacher’s Bridgestones. With Alonso stroming up so quickly they had no choice but to meet on the track.

Kimi Räikkönen was initially looking quite good for the win. But he ran into trouble — and another car — when it came to lapping Vitantonio Liuzzi. It was a spectacular crash, with Kimi practically climbing over the top of Liuzzi’s car. It was difficult to say from the replays exactly who was to blame. It looked as though Räikkönen was just too slow to move out of Liuzzi’s way. But right now Liuzzi seems to be getting the blame for slowing down too much.

After Kimi’s crash, Alonso had taken the lead. After Renault’s poor form since the US Grand Prix and Alonso’s disastrous build-up to the race, this was quite a turn up for the books — but Alonso looked as though he was going to win. That was before he had the most bizarre “driveshaft failure” in history. It was the sort of driveshaft failure that makes your car go all wobbly and throws a few wheel nuts off your car straight after a pitstop.

I don’t think many people buy Alonso’s explanation — which he gave unprompted. It seemed to everybody else as though the tyre change didn’t go to plan. But did Alonso and Renault really have to make up a driveshaft failure? It is more embarassing for Renault to have wheel nuts flying off their car than it is for their car to have a driveshaft failure?

With Alonso dispatched, the lead was taken by, of all people, Jenson Button. Like Alonso and Schumacher, Button started low down in the grid due to an engine penalty. Button felt good about his car, but the engine change caused a worry plus an extra ten cars to pass.

But the wet conditions really showed up the current qualifying rules for their ridiculousness. It was actually an advantage to qualify outside the top ten because further down the grid you are allowed to change your fuel load between qualifying and the race. Meanwhile, the top ten qualifiers were stuck with the same fuel loads that they used during qualifying — fuel loads designed for a dry race. When the heavens opened, the strategy of everybody in the top ten was dumped on.

Button drove a great race though. He made some great overtaking manoeuvres — most memorably on Michael Schumacher at turn 1, a clean and brave move. And now Button only needed to finish the race and he would win.

But the race wasn’t over. Most of the action seemed to revolve around Michael Schumacher. He lost part of his front wing in an edgy battle with Fisichella. He then overdid it against Pedro de la Rosa, skipping the same chicane twice. He should have been penalised, but it didn’t matter in the end because de la Rosa was so fast that he overtook Schumacher anyway. Then there was yet another battle with Heidfeld, when Schumacher parked his car in the garage. It seemed as though both World Championship contenders had come away from this pivotal race without scoring!

Meanwhile, Button was still out in the lead. James Allen and Anthony Davidson, ITV’s commentators, were buzzing. Allen had put several curses on Button by talking up his chances of a win. Meanwhile Davidson — Honda’s test driver — very much looked at things from the team’s point of view. “Don’t forget,” Davidson said when Jenson first took the lead, “that I chose the tyres for this race — so this is a pretty nervous moment for me aswell.”

When Button finally met the chequered flag for the first time in his Formula 1 career, Davidson yelped, “I can’t believe I was on television for this race! Martin Brundle, what have you done?!” Brundle was on holiday. I’ve read on some places that Brundle deliberately missed out the Hungarian Grand Prix because it is usually a boring race. I’m pretty sure it’s not the first time that Brundle has skipped the Hungarian GP. But he chose the wrong one to skip this year.

The Hungaroring has a reputation for being a processional race circuit where it is impossible to overtake. Maybe some of that is justified, but all circuits have seen processional races, and I can remember quite a few exciting races there. How could you forget the drama of the 1997 race where Damon Hill took his drastically underpowered Arrows within a whisker of a win? Or last year when Räikkönen recovered from a nightmare situation — having to start first in qualifying — to win the race?

And I certainly don’t think many people would consider this race to be boring. Button has finally broken his duck. Although I’m not his biggest fan, his first win has been long overdue after 115 entries. This is also Honda’s first win as a constructor since 1967, although of course they had plenty as engine manufacturers in the 1980s and 1990s.

It marks the end of a three year long drought of British winners — the longest in history apparently. Button is also the first Englishman to win a race since Johnny Herbert took the flag at the 1999 European Grand Prix — another crazy wet race.

It was also great to see Pedro de la Rosa take his first-ever podium and Nick Heidfeld, perhaps the most ignored driver of the past decade, taking a well-deserved third place.

Even after the chequered flag had fallen, though, the drama wasn’t over. Robert Kubica — Poland’s first F1 driver in his first race — had finished 7th to take two Championship points. But in scrutineering his car was found to be 2kg underweight. Apparently this was down to excessive tyre wear, with no malicious intentions. What a terrible shame for Kubica.

But his disqualification meant that Schumacher was awarded a point, so the Championship lead has been cut down to just ten points!

All-in-all, this was a race that reminded you of how much can change in F1 in just a couple of months. Just a couple of months ago Alonso’s Championship lead looked virtually unassailable. And if you asked me a couple of months ago if I thought Button would win a race this year I would have laughed.

Now we’re being lined up for an exciting down-to-the-wire Championship battle. The next race is at Turkey. I can’t wait.

1 comment

  1. RE: the fuel ‘advantage’ of starting outside the top ten in a wet race…

    Note that as Button qualified 4th and took had an engine penalty, he was unable to do this (unlike Alonso and Schumacher). To date Raikkonen is the only other driver to overcome this penalty to win.